Mother Church – offering hope, compassion and loving acceptance to all

Mary Copping, 11 March 2018

John 19: 25b–27; Colossians 3: 12–17

This Sunday is called Mother’s Day by most people, but in church we call it Mothering Sunday. Mother’s Day confines it to thanking mothers with cards, presents and flowers and can become a very commercial enterprise as children are encouraged to buy more and more expensive presents, and children are even encouraged to send cards to grandmothers. It can be difficult for those who have lost mothers, haven’t had them in their lives, had bad experiences of mothers, who feel they aren’t included. There has to be great sensitivity and understanding in celebrating this day.

Calling it Mothering Sunday rather than Mother’s Day makes it far more inclusive. Mothering is loving, caring, nurturing; of course we see that in mothers, but we also see it in other people – in family and friends and in our church communities.

In the Old Testament we have an example in the book of Samuel of a nurturing mother who suffered much. Hannah was in the Temple weeping and when the priest Eli asked what the matter was, she said she was crying because she had no children. Eli told her to go in peace, that God had granted her prayer. Hannah vowed that if she had a child she would dedicate him to the Temple. When she had Samuel, she presented him there when he was about four years old and left him, telling Eli that she had promised him to the Lord. As she went she prayed, ‘My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God’ (1 Samuel 2: 1). As the mother of Samuel she had obeyed God, even though it was painful for her to do so.

And in the New Testament we have the Virgin Mary. We know very little about Jesus’ mother Mary; apparently she is mentioned only about 20 times in the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church venerates her and we in the Anglican Church are also greatly in awe of this woman who, as a young girl, brought God’s Son into the world and cared for him as a baby and through his life. When Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus in the Temple when he was just eight days old, to sacrifice as good Jews did, we know that Simeon said a sword would pierce Mary’s heart. What pain she went through, seeing all that happened to her precious son.

Both mothers, Hannah and Mary, suffered greatly for their children but knew that they must let go of them, give them up to follow the path laid out for them. And so it is with all mothers: that they must let their children go to be the people God wants them to be, and often to suffer for and with them.

On Mothering Sunday we also think of the church as Mother Church, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘The church, regarded as a mother in its functions of nourishing and protecting the believer’. It is called Mother Church because it is something that we aim for – to care for people in the community, to nurture the young, to spread the love of Jesus in welcome and support to all who come, and to take that nurturing love out to others during the week.

Vera Edwards told a lovely story at St Paul’s about Mother Church. She said that as she was preparing for Mothering Sunday, she looked up its definition and found: ‘A rural custom in England, of visiting one’s parents on Mid-lent Sunday – supposed to have been originally visiting the mother church to make offerings’.

Vera said, ‘This brought back memories of my Gran’s church. She had six children – three boys and three girls. All of them were married in Gran’s church, and 14 grandchildren were christened there, even though some of their parents had moved to a different area and a different parish. And, sadly, there were funerals as well; my own father died when I was 13.

‘I loved the church, and I used to go with Gran to help with the dusting. The smell was unique. The church was named St Stephen’s, but the building has now been deconsecrated – it’s the examination hall of Liverpool University. But to the Fargher family it will always be “Gran’s church”.’

In days gone by, servant boys and girls were allowed on this day to walk home to visit a mother they might not have seen since this time the previous year. By tradition they would pick wild flowers on the way to present their mums with a posy and, echoing that tradition, every lady today will receive a posy of flowers. The reason the servants were allowed home, all those years ago, was so that each family group could attend their local mother church, or perhaps even the cathedral, to pray for it and to celebrate its role in the diocese.

At its best, the church offers hope, compassion and loving acceptance to all those who come, inclusive as regards gender, age, group or culture. All are welcomed and loved in the ideal church.

In this parish’s churches, we care for each other. Because of the smaller congregation at St Matthew’s we can get to know each other and notice if someone is not here, and perhaps phone or go round to see them. In bigger churches, this is more difficult, so they often have homegroups where people can get to know each other better.

A time for us to remember and give thanks for our mothers, whether here with us now or not – and also to give thanks for the many others who have loved us and nurtured us.

This is a time for us to remember and give thanks for our mothers, whether here with us now or not – and also to give thanks for the many others who have loved us and nurtured us throughout our lives. A priest wrote of a funeral visit he made, when he asked the daughter of the woman who had died about anything special she could remember of her mother. She told him of a time when she was a girl, when she was in a room on her own and knocked over a beautiful vase that was a family heirloom, the family’s treasure. Because she knew it was so valuable she screamed. Her mother came rushing in and instead of berating her she asked, ‘Are you hurt?’ When the girl said she wasn’t, she gave her a hug and said thank goodness, with no mention of the vase. The daughter said that this was when she realised that she was the family’s treasure, not the vase. We may have similar good memories of our mothers, and we may have good memories of others who have nurtured and loved us.

Some people nowadays call God mother as well as father, to celebrate the depth of his/her love for us. He/she is the one who loves us, cares for us and nurtures us. This is the love we celebrate today – the love of God for us and for the world, as in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (John 3: 16). However we understand this, we know through Jesus and all that he did on earth that God is love, and this is the love we celebrate today, which has been shown to us through our mothers, but also through many others who have loved and cared for us in our lives. Amen.